Thursday, February 28, 2008

Itching ears

I had a thought today. I think it sums up much of American Christianity. It was a simple statement.

"Many church leaders are teaching people to live for themselves in Jesus' name."

Religious humanism. Its not a new phenomenon. The prophets talked about it, and what God had to say wasn't very positive.

Jeremiah said, "An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes? "

And Paul warned, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. "

Lord, open our eyes to see Your purpose and calling for our lives.

Monday, February 25, 2008

an understanding of grace Pt. 11

Back to my story. Now where was I?

Oh yes... doing this dance. The grace works two-step. But I had realized that I needed to learn a new dance.

Maybe it could be called the glory to glory waltz.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

I had received new life the only way you can, by grace. But I almost automatically reverted to my own strength and efforts when it came to living the Christian life. I had to break the cycle. I had to learn to dance the grace step every day. I wish I could say I had a magic formula that would guarantee freedom from the "works" thing in four easy steps. I have no formula. Not really. The scriptures do instruct us in “means of grace” by which we lay hold of the good things He has for us. Prayer, fasting, worship, meditation in His word, and others. But again, we have to be careful. These activities position us to receive from the Lord, but they don't earn us anything. God doesn't owe us a certain amount of revelation after so many hours of prayer and study. He simply promises to reveal Himself to the seeking heart, and His word teaches us how to seek after Him. As we spend time before Him, our minds are “renewed” and we gradually learn to live in grace. In His presence, we see things the way He sees things. And as we see things as He does, we will learn to live in dependence on His grace in a continual way. No more religious two-step. We dance with God from grace to grace. We will still slip into the "strength" of our own works now and then, but as we refocus the eyes of our heart on Him, our hearts are freshly humbled in thankfulness, and we settle back into rest. The rest of faith. The life of grace.

I remember that simple sentence the Spirit whispered in my heart a few weeks ago.

Grace is for every moment of every day, forever and ever.

Lord, help me learn to walk with you in that way.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

an understanding of grace Pt. 10

So... anything goes huh?

Paul made it clear that self-righteousness is absolutely “no bueno.” Well then, the obvious question is,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?

Seems like a pretty logical question. A teacher I really respect said that this question will always come up when grace is taught accurately. Seems pretty reasonable if Paul himself was asking it, even if it was rhetorical. He is the one who forcefully told us to put no confidence in the flesh. Our righteous works are useless in dealing with our guilt before God's judgment seat. The only thing that will save our necks is the gift of righteousness. The only hope we have is in the cross. If that is true, well, we might as well just sin our brains out. More sin, more grace. Yee haw! You could almost say that every new sin we commit adds to the value of Jesus work on the cross. But Paul continues,

By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

He didn't let that idea go very far.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

That we too might walk in newness of life.

Not in heaven some day.

Now, today.

The sixth chapter of Romans is... wow. What can you say. We died with Him, and are raised with Him. That's an amazing idea.

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

For one who has died has been set free from sin.

Free from sin? No longer enslaved?

For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

What was that question he started with? Something about continuing in sin so that grace could abound? In Paul's mind, that might be a logical question to the novice, but once you begin to understand what Jesus was doing on the cross, it becomes nonsense. But today there are still many who “turn the grace of God into licentiousness.” To them, grace means you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, and its all forgiven, even if your heart is unrepentant. Many have no intention of every willfully giving up their favorite sin. And they can find plenty of teachers who will twist the scriptures to make them comfortable in their deception.

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

In Paul's understanding, being under grace was the key to being free from the power of sin. Grace enables us to "present... your members to God as instruments for righteousness." The gift of righteousness is what enables us to walk in righteousness. We're not talking about sinless perfection. We are in a life-long process where the Holy Spirit within is transforming us day by day. But the child of God will have a sincere desire to experience the righteousness that has been declared over us. If a person doesn't have a genuine desire to actually walk in the ways of God, there is a real danger that they haven't had a genuine encounter with Jesus. The difference between self-righteousness and kingdom righteousness is motivation. The legalist is selfishly motivated to earn God's favor and acceptance. True kingdom righteousness is an expression of love and gratitude to the One who loves us so much that He took the penalty of our sin upon Himself. We walk uprightly because we know that it brings joy to His heart. Its a life set apart as an offering of thankful worship.

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"

We pursue a life of righteousness because He is worthy that we would love Him with all of our heart and seek to bring joy to Him in all of our ways.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Are we a little obsessed?

Okay, just this week I ran across these two articles.


And then there was this one back in December.

Now, I fully realize that sex is God's idea. I understand that the intimate relationship between a man and his wife is both beautiful and holy. And extremely pleasurable by His design. But I think we have possibly crossed a line somewhere. Perhaps, in our desire to remove the religious stigma from sex, we have bought into the world's approach to the matter.


an understanding of grace Pt. 9

A little bunny trail...

So who gets in on this grace thing?

We know that Jesus died “for the sins of the whole world.” The scriptures tells us in at least two places that God desires all people to come to repentance and the knowledge of the truth. It also tells us clearly that all do not do so. Righteousness is a gift. Its free, and cannot be earned, and yet, not everyone recieves it. What's the deal?

Repentance and faith. This was the message of all the New Testament preachers. Jesus, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul... they all declare this to be the invitation.

Mat 3:1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."... Bear fruit in keeping with repentance... "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, ... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

Mar 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

Act 2:38 And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Act 3:19 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

Act 17:30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

Act 26:19 "Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.

Today, we emphasize faith, with very little talk of repentance, but the New Testament pattern is really the opposite. The first step was always repentance. There are one or two passages that mention faith without mentioning repentance, but if you look at those passages, a repentant heart is usually apparent. Most of the time the message begins with a call to repentance. Why?

I think the answer is really pretty simple.

God is into reality. Sin really is evil and destructive. It is the source of all suffering and pain and darkness in the world. Sin is not just bad because God says so. He says so because He knows that it is bad. His perfect wisdom and love cannot allow it in the world where He has fellowship with His creation. His plan of redemption doesn't just deal with the penalty of sin. It deals with the sin itself. We repent and believe on His atonement on the cross. We are born again. We are “raised” with Him from spiritual death to new life with His Spirit within. And that Holy Spirit that comes to dwell within us begins a process of revealing the very person of God to us and setting us free from our sin at the deepest level of who we are. That selfishness is replaced by His perfect love poured out in our hearts.

American christianity reduces the salvation message to a plan for getting people into heaven in spite of the fact that they are living in rebellion against God's ways. The angel told Mary and Joseph, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Today we tell people that He saves them IN their sins. Repentance is made to be an option for the radicals, the ones who are the “super-Christians.” Many will call repentance “works” if you make it part of the gospel message. This is totally contrary to a straightforward, honest reading of the New Testament. Paul described our calling as a “ministry of reconcialiation.”

Reconciliation takes place when two people actually resolve their differences. If I have done something to offend you and caused a break in our relationship, I cannot expect you to forgive me and be restored in our friendship if I fully intend to continue doing the behaviour that offended you in the first place. If I have been having an affair with your wife, and ask you to forgive me, but have no intention of discontinuing the relationship with her, should I expect you to want to be friends again? On a human level, we would consider that ludicrous. Somehow, though, we think that God will forgive us and accept us back as His children and friends when He knows we have no intention of turning our hearts from the sin that separated us from Him in the first place. I think this is infinitely more ridiculous than the same idea on a mere human level.

Repentance is not religious works of righteousness. Repentance does not earn us God's forgivness and acceptance. Repentance and faith position us to receive the gift of salvation. If we will turn in our hearts from the life of selfishness, (sin), and trust in Jesus death on the cross to satisfy the just penalty of God's law, then He will forgive our sins, declare us righteous, and restore us to a real relationship with Him. We will be reconciled to God. Think about what I just said, and read what Paul wrote to the Corinthinans.

2Co 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.... For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.... Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

God's plan is not about getting sinners into heaven after they die. Its about reconciling them to Himself. Its about restoring them to the relationship they were created for. Getting into heaven is a by-product of that process. Forgiveness is not the main goal. Its one of the early steps in the reconciliation process. It is essential, but its not God's primary purpose. Forgiveness of our sins is merely the beginning of an eternal journey of fellowship with our Bridegroom and King. I don't mean to diminish the awesomeness of being forgiven, but its not the main thing. Walking with God is the main thing. Knowing Him, and experiencing life as He intended it for us is the main thing.

Jesus prayed it in John 17, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Its all about knowing Him. So who is this grace for? Its not just a free pass out of hell. Its for those who truly desire to turn from their life of selfishness to know and love and serve Him.

Its for those who sincerely want to be reconciled to God.

Its for those who, like Abraham, want to be a friend of God.

Friday, February 01, 2008

an understanding of grace Pt. 8

The Cross

The cross has always been a stumbling block. Paul wrote of the offense of the cross. This is God's solution to the problem of man's sin and rebellion??? God in the flesh, dying a gruesome death at the hands of those He came to save? Without the help of the Spirit's revelation, that could be a pretty tough idea to swallow. But... with His help, we see the awesome wonder of God's wisdom.

God had a problem. Yea... that's right. He was in a quandary.

(Okay... He was never wringing His hands in worry, but there was a difficulty to be resolved.)

His mercy moved Him to forgive us and restore us to the relationship He created us for, but His justice had to be satisfied for the good of all creation. If He just forgave us without regard for the consequences of violating His ways, He would undermine the integrity of His own word and of the very concept of justice. The revelation of the absolute evil of sin would be greatly diminished. If God could just shrug His shoulders and “Aw shucks” at our selfishness and rebellion, well then it must not have been that big of a deal in the first place. No... the seriousness of the crime required that the righteous punishment must follow. God had a plan that not only satisfied the righteous requirement of truth, it underscored it. It magnified it. Justice would have been met if we simply had spent eternity separated from the One who loves us, but His mercy and compassion would have been dishonored. The cross satisfies both.

When Jesus became a man, and lived a perfect, sinless life, and then voluntarily allowed Himself to be tortured and finally crucified, He made the boldest of statements that will echo throughout eternity. He showed us how deadly serious sin is, and how absolutely committed He is to upholding righteousness and justice. He will not simply “look the other way.” And He showed the height and width and breadth and depth of His love for us. He satisfied justice and opened the way for a mercy that is beyond comprehension. Every dimension of His love was demonstrated for all to see. Our appreciation for what He did will grow for all of eternity. A billion years from now we will be more thankful than we are today. And a billion years later we will be more thankful still. It's amazing. Amazing grace. If we will turn from our selfishness and believe that the sacrifice of His life on the cross satisfies the justice of God, He will forgive us of all our sin, declare us to be righteous, and restore us to full relationship with Himself. We are reconciled to Him. We receive the gift of eternal life. We become children of God. We experience “unmerited favor.”

It's called the grace of God.